How to Tell

Other factors influence the ability of the child to tell about the abuse. Unwillingness to disclose may relate to lack of ability. The child may: 
  • Be too young to articulate the abuse.  
  • Have no language or vocabulary to explain what happened to him.
  • Have no emotional resource to draw from in order to go before strangers and tell about an event(s) which he does not understand, cannot articulate, and feels responsible for.
  • Be overwhelmed with a sense of embarrassment and shame.

If the child victim is too young to articulate the abuse, and the abuse is a one-time occurrence, the abuse consequences will not be understood by either victim or mother. Negative consequences will present themselves and may be mistaken for other things, including psychological disturbance in the child. Children are often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Bipolar Disorder when sexual abuse has occurred or continues to occur, and the child has not disclosed.

The child victim has been told many things about the abuse and what will happen if the child does not keep the secret. The child feels helpless and has learned how to cope with thoughts and feelings about the abuse. The abuse may have become a part of the child's life, and the child both does not know that anything is wrong with the offender's behaviors or may think that this happens in all families. Many offenders do not physically harm the child, and the child may enjoy the attention and pleasure that comes from the sexual abuse. The child may be confused about telling.

When the child or adolescent or even adult victim decides to tell, it takes a significant amount of courage to overcome the fear of telling. If the victim has support and has developed some emotional resources and coping skills, disclosure can occur. The victim then will face consequences related to the disclosure. This fear of consequences is what prevents many victims from telling. However, the longer the victim waits to tell and ask for help, the more devastating the consequences of the abuse may be.

Children often provide small pieces of information and believe that they have told. When no protective action is taken, they may withdraw and not tell again. When children tell, and family life is disrupted or consequences occur to the perpetrator, children may retract the disclosure, stating that the abuse did not really occur. It is important to understand that the child's experience of the consequences and feelings of responsibility may motivate retraction. It is very important that mothers and other caregivers are knowledgeable about the signs of sexual abuse and take action when these are observed. It is also important that mothers and other caregivers are knowledgeable of characteristics and behaviors of perpetrators so that they can take action when they suspect their child is in danger.


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